Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Emma Moxey at Centrespace

Settlement: A Drawing Out From Place

Viewing the work of multi-disciplinary artist Emma Moxey is akin to spiralling down a rabbit hole into contoured landscapes and clouds of colour. Her beautiful map-like creations inspire a heady experience similar to internet marvel Google Earth. The intricate details of her brushwork allow you to mentally zoom in on miniscule areas of canvas and imagine existing in her dizzyingly vibrant worlds.

For her recent exhibition ‘Settlement’ at the Centrespace gallery in Bristol, Moxey has created an entire body of work inspired by one particular visual and subtextual wonderland. This ‘post glacial semi-wilderness’ complete with Iron-age barrow lies beneath a noisy flight path and is embedded with many of Moxey’s childhood memories.

The womb-like ring of the barrow repeatedly features in many of the works on display, and her use of earthy colours and primitive marking techniques also help to conjure the site’s ancient history. The ghostly outlines of the original settlement have been overwritten with futuristic schematics and astronomical imagery. The fusion between two contrasting realms provides viewers with a giddying sensory adventure.

Unusually, Moxey describes herself as a ‘drawer’ and is interested in the mechanics of her art as well as its final product. Many of the exhibition’s images are concerned with what is lost and gained by translating a place to paper and question whether it is possible for art to accurately reiterate spatial experience at all. By using a combination of very different artistic techniques, as well as leaving areas of paper completely untreated, her work acquires the partially finished feel of a sketch or diagram. We are reminded that what we see is not the place but its pencil-formed double.

The exhibition is a den of mystery and riddle. ‘Settlement’ invites observers to puzzle their own interpretative reading from a rich nexus of symbols. Branch-like imprints double up as veins, and outlines of fences become molecular diagrams. As well as drawing on cartographic methods, her paintings are filled with hints of other systems of marking. Constellation maps, anatomical drawings, space-age architecture, DNA coding and topography all haunt her artwork. Some of these emblems are explained, such as the reoccurrence of the site’s geographical reference ‘57’ and the asymmetrical boxes, which represent the treasure the artist dug into the burial mound as a child. Others are left to float on the periphery of the observer’s comprehension.

The audience’s experience is at the forefront of Moxey’s creative process. Her Centrespace show works more as an installation rather than a straight-forward exhibition, with each piece carefully sequenced for maximum impact. Patterns are picked up, developed and are dropped as you move through the gallery and follow Moxey’s thought processes. To further the installation experience, Moxey commissioned four musicians to create a soundtrack for the show based entirely on their interpretation of the pieces. The tribal rhythms and gentle melodies created by the quartet have a hypnotic effect, and add the aura of an ancient religious ritual to the already intoxicating visuals.

Moxey’s ultimate aim for this project was to create a range of work that explores the difference between what she terms a ‘space’ and a ‘place’. Her drawings and paintings are not just aesthetic representations of the site (the ‘space’), but blend the visual with a mythological, mnemonic and sensory interpretation of the wilderness. This fusion of a location with its cultural and personal significance transforms it into a ‘place’, and mimics the creative process that we all undertake, perhaps unknowingly, as we journey through our environment.

With such a rich heritage in Bristol, the city is prime ground for stimulating interesting experiences of ‘place’. Next time you have a few moments, whether it be beside an historic building or in the chippy, take time to experience your own settlement. You may not spy Iron-age barrows but there are plenty of other topographical ghosts just waiting to be unearthed.


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